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Public Enemy: Man Plans God Laughs

Earlier this year, Public Enemy’s classic 1990 album, Fear of a Black Planet, celebrated its 25th anniversary. Almost 25 years to the day after Chuck D’s piercing shouts bookended Radio Raheem getting choked out by the police in front of onlookers in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, Eric Garner suffered the same fate. Since then, the police have killed Michael Brown, John Crawford III, Ezell Ford, Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, and many, many more unarmed black men and women. Public Enemy’s message is more relevant now than ever.

Almost on cue, the group is back from a three-year hiatus with its 13th studio album, Man Plans God Laughs, a timely release that repackages classic Public Enemy motifs for a renewed struggle. The group seems revitalized by the current movement and, as a longstanding, outspoken voice for civil rights, anxiously seeks to lend its support in the ongoing fight for black lives—there’s even a passing mention of the #BlackLivesMatter campaign. Chuck D is refocused and often sharp, using his strained, but still booming chants to rally allies. When he shouts, “So, it’s cool to be black until it’s time to be black,” on “Mine Again”, a song about African pride, it’s as much a call-to-action for African-Americans as it is reprimand of cultural appropriators. The two major points of emphasis remain mobilizing the black base and challenging anti-black tyranny.

Man Plans God Laughs is entirely produced by longtime Bomb Squad member G-Wiz – who also produced the majority of How You Sell Soul – and some of his beats slap, particularly “Praise the Loud”, which is augmented by DJ Lord scratches. Where previous PE releases this century have often sounded dated, this one often sounds forcibly modern, even for its faults, though, this record doesn’t lack the distinct, aggressively pro-Black energy that originally made Public Enemy a voice for the oppressed masses. That’s what has always been the most important thing at the music’s core. The message is still there,

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2015 in Spotlight on

 

Between the Buried and Me: Coma Ecliptic

Integration and expansion have always been the trademarks of North Carolina’s Between the Buried & Me. This lineup, which has been together since the early 2000s, has leaned ever more toward prog with each successive release since 2007’s Colours, and seemingly culminated in the two-chapter Parallax releases in 2011 and 2012. Those records utilized not only the math rock and technical death metal from the band’s history, but also touched on jazz rock in a meld of sophisticated musical compositions.

Coma Ecliptic is a concept album that “follows the wanderings of an unidentified man, stuck in a coma, as he journeys through his past lives…he enters each world and is offered a choice: stay, or move on to the next in search of something better, something more ‘perfect’.” The m.o. may be ambitious, but this is easily the most musically accessible record BTB&M have ever released. There is a conscious attempt to gather all of their various identities and at least engage (if not embrace) pop in the process. With its melancholy, lilting melody, set opener “Nodes” is graced by a Wurlitzer piano and synth strings framing Tommy Rogers’ clean lead and harmony vocals. This is intro as pop song” culminating in the Brian May-esque (Queen) lead guitar breaks from Paul Waggoner and Dustie Waring (and it’s not the only place where the classic rock guitarist or his band is referenced here). The cut segues into “Coma Machine” another place where the classic rock band is referenced. Initially at least, pop and prog come together before the tune explodes into a tech metal frenzy. Rogers’ vocals alternate between clean and growling; they intersect with one another in loops, adding a multi-dimensional framework. Melodic guitar interludes are interspersed with fierce, knotty breakdowns amid a thrumming bassline and pummeling drum attack, even though the hook never quite disappears. On “Famine Wolf,” a synth pulse greets angularly tuned guitars that pierce Rogers’ sung/growled vocals and the track unravels with sheer heaviness. The first half of “King Redeem, Queen Serene” is a lilting, mournful ballad before gnarly, mathy guitars claim the center amid stop-and-start rhythm section cadences before speeding toward an anthemic climax. Longer jams such “Turn on the Darkness” and “The Memory Palace” (which meld proggy and melodic hard guitar rock – think Porcupine Tree-meets-Rush) are deeply satisfying yet require repeated listening to absorb everything they contain. But not everything works. The album finishes strong with the soaring, prog metal in “Option Oblivion” and “Life In Velvet,” that commences as a ballad but sprials off into hard rock grandeur with killer guitar breaks.

Given its musical diversity, Coma Ecliptic is a surprisingly cohesive record. While employing many tropes and influences, Between the Buried & Me, come off sounding like no one but themselves; the album’s accessibility adds another dimension to this band’s already remarkable scope.

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2015 in Spotlight on

 

Album of the Week: Titus Andronicus: The Most Lamentable Tragedy

On their earlier albums, Titus Andronicus perfected the art of writing confrontationally self-effacing anthems. Their most potent and most recognized refrains – “You will always be a loser” and “Your life is over” – took on a therapeutic nature when being screamed by crowds of young men and women in the throes of rock-show-as-catharsis. By contrast, the mantras on The Most Lamentable Tragedy look inward. “I hate to be awake”; “I can control something inside of me”; “It’s alright”; “I only like it when it’s dimed out”; these are confessional observations that sound scribbled in the margins of some diary. Stickles has sounded more personal than this, but never less acidic. This is angst that’s approachable, rather than the starved nihilism that colored their previous records.

With that in mind, the one-two punch of “Come On, Siobhán” and “A Pair of Brown Eyes” is where the record unlocks. In their cover of the Pogues classic, they tweak a few lyrics to change the mood: “One winter’s evening/ Stoned as hell.” It’s marijuana that the hero consumes in this version, not alcohol, because while booze dulls the senses, a real marijuana high makes one ultra-perceptive of all the conditions in one’s life. Sifting those thoughts to find some clarity is like navigating a minefield… but here, the hero has a revelation that despite his baleful world view, despite the push and pull between his inner selves, despite the tide of disgust felt toward his surroundings, salvation is possible through someone else. The feeling might be as ephemeral as the high, but for a moment, life looks wide open. It’s the first time the band has explicitly sung about love, the transmutation of brutal pessimism into beatific optimism.

This is not maudlin sentiment printed off a Hallmark card, but a hard-fought conclusion following a lifetime of despair. The feeling isn’t eternal; a few songs later, the relationship has ended and the hero is plunged back into his depression. But the mood has shifted by “Stable Boy”, the last proper song on the album. Over a weeping chord organ, Stickles gazes at the yawning void of “forever” and decides that for all life’s dissatisfaction, ’tis better to have lived than not at all.

Review by Paul Elliott

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2015 in Album Of The Week

 

Spring King @ The Old Blue Last, London, 28 July 2015

Spring King, Moats: The Shipping Forecast, Liverpool

Originally formed in Liverpool, now calling London their home, the well known touring act of the night are Spring King. They make cheeky and fast, surf-pop tunes, sounding like Arcade Fire and Black Lips.

Usually laid back, lead singer Tarek Musa’s vocals become more aggressive live, noticeably on Can I?, because he also plays Spring King’s high tempo drums. It gives the gig an intensity, their music becomes even more raucous and their sound charges at the audience.

They’re a fun band, the way Spring King play you want to get involved with them, you want to jump, sing, scream, shout and knock each other around. The gig ended ridiculously, with their guitarist being lifted and raised to the roof, and we were in The Old Blue Last, the space between his face and the ceiling was nil.

The band are on the verve of a breakthrough after the launching of Apples’ streaming music service at the end of last month as Spring King’s catchy but raw track City, recorded in Musa’s mother’s old sewing room (drums in the bathroom), became the first song ever broadcast on Beats 1.

Avoiding Silence managed to grab a few quick words with Musa to ask him how he felt about the bands recent notoriety ?

Musa: “I was in the recording studio when the news came through to him, working on new music that I hope to release later in the year. My bandmates were working at their day jobs. I’ve had a lot of emails and positive tweets from people who have never heard the band before,” Musa went on to add. “I tweeted Zane because it’s so cool that he’s gone with a small band. We weren’t expecting it at all. I was blown away to be honest. If I see him I’ll have to buy him a rum and coke.”

Review by Paul Elliott

 

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2015 in Spotlight on

 

Julio Bashmore: Knockin’ Boots

Producer Matt Walker (aka Julio Bashmore) got his start in Bristol’s dubstep scene, but he claims that his first exposure to dance music came through his older brother’s vintage house records, and house seems to be his true calling. His breakout 2011 single “Battle for Middle You” combined classic house revivalism with a quintessentially Bristolian combination of sub bass frequencies and icy synths. The resulting track had all the feel of a long-lost Chicago treasure being rediscovered.

Since then, Walker’s lost some of the Bristol chill, but kept his focus on house, to impressive results. His début album, Knockin’ Boots, could actually be the best LP-length statement to come out of house’s reawakening. Walker’s a nonspecific revivalist who draws inspiration from every point on the genre’s timeline—”Rhythm of Auld” emulates the kind of hard-edged disco funk that house was built on (including a spookily dead-on vocal part by J’Danna, who sings on three of the album’s tracks), while “She Ain’t” sounds like the funkily robotic stuff Cajmere was doing 20 years later with a dash of ghetto house raunch sprinkled on top.

He’s not bound to any sort of out-sized sense of responsibility to authenticity, though, and he freely adds his own personalized flourishes to the recipes he’s working from. “She Ain’t” ends in a glitchy breakdown that would’ve been very out of place in the mid-’90s. On some tracks he goes even further – a gently percolating bump combined with BIXBY’s aching vocals peg “Let Me Be Your Weakness” as a stab at circa-1988 soulful house, but the rest of the arrangement is a fascinating mutant mashup of ’80s freestyle and turn-of-the-millennium UK garage.

 

 
 

Best Friends: Hot. Reckless. Totally Insane.

On their début album, Hot. Reckless. Totally Insane., the guys in Best Friends give the impression that they’re having a great time, romping through their ’90s-influenced garage pop songs like happy-go-lucky good-time Charlies.

Not to say that the music is silly or frivolous, just that there’s a lighthearted joy at its heart that makes the album a pure delight. Most of the songs are fast and super-hooky, the kind that make you want to stop whatever you’re doing and do some dancing. Even the slower songs have no drag at all, just a little less frantic energy. And the restrained “Cold Shapes” sounds like a lost shoegaze pop classic. The band plays with sure-handed power and loads of youthful enthusiasm. Lewis Sharman and Tom Roper’s guitar work is nimble and quick, jumping like excited little kids over the bouncing backbeat of Jonny Gaymer and Ed Crisp’s crisp basslines. Sharman’s vocals are pleasantly yelpy without ever coming close to whiny; he even handles the half-ballad that ends the album, “Orange Juice,” with some gritty aplomb. Mostly though, he romps and hollers as the band clatters away happily and those lucky enough to be listening start thinking where the band would fit on a mixtape. After the Cribs, maybe? In between King Tuff and Jay Reatard, perhaps? Somewhere close to Franz Ferdinand or Black Lips? Yes, to all of those.

Really though, the strength of their songs, the fiery fun of their performances, and the overall amount of fun that blasts out of the speakers in a rambunctious wave as the album plays make them more than pretenders or hangers-on. Best Friends have arrived fully formed on their debut, ready to take their place among the best practitioners of noisy garagey pop around.

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2015 in Spotlight on

 

Savages @ Barbican Centre, London – 25 July 2015

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Savages may have played only a handful of dates this year, but a crowded main floor of the Barbican Centre this evening was testament to success they have enjoyed since the release of Silence Yourself in 2013.

Savages saunter on stage like they’ve just finished beating up some skinny indie boy-band in a back alley. With no more ceremony than a single “Hi” from lead singer Jehnny, the band launch into “I Am Here”. Emerging out of the slide and sustain noise from Gemma Thompson’s guitar, and with a chorus that showcases Jehnny’s vocal abilities, they are as precise as they are wild, and the bounce isn’t a complete fabrication, as the drummer (Fay Milton) jumps up and down on her seat in time with the kick-drum.

The other indication of the band’s seriousness this evening is their strict and often-repeated policy on phones and cameras, as plastered all around the venue are posters reminding people who constantly taking pictures during the show will probably get them a black eye!
Savages close the set tonight with their longest song, “Fuckers” and while doesn’t contain the most profound or interesting lyrics ever, it gives a chance for the band to stretch out and play with the dynamics of a song, and you can’t help wondering what comes next.

Avoiding Silence remained to grab a few words with the band after the gig and found them in an excitable mood and looking forward the soon-to-be-release of their new album whilst similarly being philosophical of their journey thus far.

“I think the first record, Silence Yourself we treated very much like a document of the performance,” explains the band’s guitarist Gemma Thompson. “There wasn’t really any doubling of things, or anything that couldn’t be achieved live. The little ideas that we hinted at on the first record, we wanted to push as far as they could go with this,” she continues.

When it came to their sophomore album, Savages rejected several offers from established producers to work again with, Johnny Hostile. “He knows the band inside out,” says Gemma. “You save so much time not having to explain anything when you work with someone who knows you so well.” Where, Silence Yourself was recorded almost entirely live, for the new record, each member of the four-piece put down her parts individually. “That was really inspiring as musicians, to have time to work on your own sound and go a bit deeper into the music.”

“The idea of going straight into writing a record and recording it the same way just seemed like a really alien process,” admits Gemma. “It’s funny though,” adds front-woman Jehnny Beth. “One song on this second record, ‘I Need Something New’ – it was literally written on stage. At some point during the tour it felt like we needed,” she laughs, “something new. It was from an improvisation we were doing and it just carried on.”

Savages new album will be released later on in the year.

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2015 in Spotlight on

 

ARCHIVED ALBUM: Elton John: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

It was designed to be a blockbuster and it was. Prior to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John had hits – his second album, Elton John, went Top 10 in the U.S. and U.K., and he had smash singles in “Crocodile Rock” and “Daniel” – but this 1973 album was a statement of purpose spilling over two LPs, which was all the better to showcase every element of John’s spangled personality.

Opening with the 11-minute melodramatic exercise “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” – as prog as Elton ever got – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road immediately embraces excess but also tunefulness, as John immediately switches over to “Candle in the Wind” and “Bennie & the Jets,” two songs that form the core of his canon and go a long way toward explaining the over-stuffed appeal of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. This was truly the debut of Elton John the entertainer, the pro who knows how to satisfy every segment of his audience, and this eagerness to please means the record is giddy but also overwhelming, a rush of too much muchness. Still, taken a side at a time, or even a song a time, it is a thing of wonder, serving up such perfectly sculpted pop songs as “Grey Seal,” full-bore rockers as “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” and “Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock & Roll),” cinematic ballads like “I’ve Seen That Movie Too,” throwbacks to the dusty conceptual sweep of Tumbleweed Connection in the form of “The Ballad of Danny Bailey (1909-34),” and preposterous glam novelties, like “Jamaica Jerk-Off.”

This touched on everything John did before, and suggested ways he’d move in the near-future, and that sprawl is always messy but usually delightful, a testament to Elton’s ’70s power as a star and a musician.

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2015 in Archive Album Focus

 

Movie Review: Inside Out

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Inside Out goes inside the mind of Riley, an 11-year-old girl whose father’s job moves the family from Minnesota to San Francisco. Riley’s mind is a vast place, including a maze of memories, her islands of personality, the Train of Thought and a control centre called Headquarters. Riley however (given a voice performance by Kaitlyn Dias) is almost a supporting player in Inside Out. Two of her emotions, Joy and Sadness, tumble, plunge, run, ride and fly through most of the movie’s action, adventure and suspense.

Joy and Sadness work in Headquarters with co-emotions Fear, Anger and Disgust. Even though Joy – a blue-haired pixie (voiced by comic-actress Amy Poehler) is outnumbered by the other four, ostensibly negative, emotions in Riley’s head, she’s senior officer at Headquarters, which resembles the Starship Enterprise bridge.

Riley, after living in a great house in Minnesota and having great friends and parents, finds her first days in San Francisco a shock. The family’s new house is sad and run down, there’s no backyard and the moving van hasn’t arrived with the family’s stuff yet. Additionally, Riley’s first day at school goes terribly wrong. But the biggest source of Riley’s pain is inside her head. The mischievous Sadness starts handling Riley’s core memories. Anything Sadness touches turns blue.

Joy tries to prevent Sadness from causing more trouble but, during another Sadness-induced accident, Joy and Sadness are sucked out of Headquarters through a pneumatic tube. With Joy exiled from Headquarters in the outer realms of Riley’s mind, Fear, Anger and Disgust are left minding the control console at Headquarters. As Joy and Sadness struggle to find their way back to Headquarters, Riley’s life goes from bad to worse. Meanwhile, the lost emotions find a lifeline when they meet Bing Bong, Riley’s not-quite-forgotten imaginary friend from early childhood.

Pixar’s computer-animated movies and Disney’s hand-drawn classics share a long history of going to dark places where hope is fading. Inside Out ups the dire circumstances and audiences and history will decide if the latest Pixar film goes overboard with desolation.

Whatever the judgement, Inside Out, even when it’s tragic and sad, is beautifully rendered. Of course, there is a happy ending, but not without a price.

Review by Paul Elliott

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2015 in Movies / TV

 

Movie Review: Terminator Genisys

Let the record show, I watched a screening of the misbegotten action sequel Terminator: Genisys yesterday.

In the hours that followed, I sent a cyborg back in time to Hollywood 2012 to prevent this abomination from ever getting a green light.

So if you are reading this review today, I can only assume that my automaton assassin has failed in its mission.

For this, I can only apologise…

To briefly summarise: in the future, saintly saviour John Connor has ordered right-hand-man Kyle Reese back to 1984 to stand guard over his revered mother Sarah Connor. Action stations … Jai Courtney plays Kyle Reese in Terminator Genisys. However, Sarah already has a protector in the kindly robot Pops, who is clearly not a fan of Kyle.

The trio later fast-forward themselves to a date with fate in the year 2017, where the fabled threat posed by the Skynet surveillance system is now disguised as an operating system about to enslave every digital device on the planet.

All of these developments and more are clunkily explained by the actors while they take a breather between turgidly repetitive action sequences.

Somehow, the whole thing lasts two hours before somebody finally thinks of a way to end it all.

Genisys will go down in history as the worst Terminator movie ever by a considerable distance.

Review by Paul Elliott

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2015 in Movies / TV

 

Little Boots: Working Girl

With a title inspired in part by the 1988 comedy-drama of the same name, Little Boots’ third full-length album, 2015’s Working Girl, showcases her trademark atmospheric ’70s disco and ’80s house-infused pop with ever increasing aplomb.

A concept album, Working Girl revolves around Victoria Hesketh’s (aka Little Boots’) own journey from major-label fame with Atlantic Records in 2009 to independent success after founding On Repeat Records in 2013. The album follows Hesketh’s equally conceptually minded 2014 EP Business Pleasure (all four tracks are included here) and finds her expanding upon that album’s dual themes of creative transformation and professional empowerment. Working with a bevy of arty dancefloor-familiar producers including Simian Mobile Disco’s Jas Shaw, Com Truise, and Chris Carmouche (Janelle Monáe, Major Lazer), Hesketh has constructed album of arch, laser-like sophistication, punctuated by moments of euphoric passion. Cuts like the title track, “Taste It,” and “Real Girl” are languid, exotic anthems that balance Hesketh’s thoughtful D.I.Y. feminist point of view with subtle cheekiness and a winking sense of camp. Whether she’s singing about taking control of her creative process, her career, or even her sexuality,

Hesketh imbues Working Girl with a confident swagger. It’s as if she’s reimagined her herself as an ’80s power suit-wearing heroine in a film about her life; a cinematic ice queen CEO commanding the boardroom in stilettos. As she defiantly coos on “Business Pleasure, “I’m not your girl in the machine/I won’t give up on my daydream.” Which isn’t to say there aren’t moments of red-hot passion on Working Girl. On the contrary, cuts like “Get Things Done” and the sparkling club anthem “Desire,” are whip-crack funky and utterly infectious, bringing to mind Vogue-era Madonna.

Ultimately, Working Girl plays like Little Boots’ own biopic, a cinematic feminist synth-pop manifesto set to a pulsing Giorgio Moroder-esque soundtrack.

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2015 in Spotlight on

 

Comic Review: Marvel Zombies #2

Elsa Bloodstone faces all types of undead creatures as she and the mysterious girl she’s protecting make their way across Battleworld’s Deadlands in “Marvel Zombies” #2, but it’s a different kind of dead monster that truly haunts her. No, her father Ulysses Bloodstone wasn’t a monster in the literal sense, but she certainly remembers him as one as her current situation brings forth plenty of unpleasant memories. Writer Simon Spurrier uses this dynamic to forge a bond between Elsa and her unnamed companion, and artist Kev Walker makes it mean something by way of his horrific, rotting undead creations as well as his tough, heroic, yet approachable interpretation of Elsa.

Last issue, Spurrier used Elsa’s flashbacks to highlight her upbringing by her demanding and merciless father and, in turn, showed Elsa to have turned out to be an equally hard and callous, if not protective, adult. Here, though, she finds herself conflicted, as her attachment to the young child grows and she finds herself acting against the lessons imparted to her when she herself was younger. Despite the pervasive memories of her father telling her to remain unattached, her character experiences growth as she begins to question what she’s believed.

Spurrier’s characterization is largely what drives the issue and, though it’s enough, he still throws in a couple of other surprises to keep the story fresh. The first is more subtle, fooling readers as much as it does Elsa, and the second comes on the final page and is a pure fanboy delight. Throughout, Spurrier also keeps the dialogue punchy and engaging, particularly Elsa’s, although other characters get a clever quip or two in as well. Ulysses’ own lines, conversely, are harsh and cruel and border on outright mean-spirited, although Spurrier somewhat throttles back on the senior Bloodstone’s demeanor at one point.

It takes a few pages to get into the vibe of Spurrier’s script, but Walker is able to grab readers immediately, as Elsa finds herself taking apart an incapacitated zombie version of M.O.D.O.K., or — as Spurrier indirectly but cleverly calls this one — M.O.D.O.C., an acronym readers deserve to check out for themselves. Walker’s take on this monstrous incarnation is pleasingly disgusting, looking like it was struck by a semi and left lying on the freeway for a week or two. All of the zombified villains in Walker’s Deadlands look appropriately moribund and genuinely nightmarish, and the colors from Guru-eFX aren’t all dark and moody like one might expect in such an environment; the usage of medium blue tones for most of the backgrounds might seem surprising but actually give the book enough light to allow Walker’s detail to be fully apparent.

“Marvel Zombies” #2 works as a well-characterized and skillfully illustrated comic with an engaging story and moments of genuine surprise. Readers who pick this up unaware of what came before or the bigger tapestry of “Secret Wars” will still find a nicely constructed issue.

 
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Posted by on July 26, 2015 in Comic Recommendation

 

EZTV: Calling Out

As proven by decades’ worth of jangly guitar pop, there’s a fine line between classic and derivative – or worse, boring. On their début album Calling Out, EZTV stay on the right side of that line as they build on a power pop lineage that includes Big Star, Cleaners from Venus, Shoes, and especially Emitt Rhodes.

Like Rhodes, EZTV write songs that ease into listeners’ ears rather than demanding their attention; it takes a little while for just how good Calling Out’s tracks are to sink in, but when they do, they cast a bittersweet spell. The contrast between Ezra Tenenbaum’s unassuming, almost offhanded delivery and the addictive hooks on songs like “The Light” ends up being a big part of EZTV’s charm (another song title, “Soft Tension,” captures the band’s modus operandi perfectly). Their hazy sound suits the poignant uncertainty of Calling Out’s subject matter: shifting relationships, fleeting happiness, and lingering melancholy flow into each other with watercolor delicacy and lightness on subtle stunners like “Hard to Believe” and “There Goes My Girl,” both of which would sound obvious and flat in the hands of a showier band. Tenenbaum and company take such an understated approach that they even bury some of their best songs toward the end of the album. The former single “Dust in the Sky,” “Blue Buzz,” and “Trampoline” all showcase the tight songwriting and eloquent guitar solos that add to EZTV’s timeless feel; working with Woods’ Jarvis Taveniere, who can make any band sound like a vintage act, as producer was an inspired move.

Low on drama but high on seemingly effortless jangle pop brilliance, Calling Out feels like a long-lost classic and an exciting discovery.

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2015 in Spotlight on

 
 
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